3rd Annual Festival of Cinema NYC: Hosted Brave, Brash, and Beautiful Films

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Photo: Courtesy of Festival of Cinema NYC

Festival of Cinema NYC has wrapped its 3rd season – and it was a season replete with films tackling trauma, love, and hope with authenticity. Cinema fanatics from not just Queens (host location), but all over the world were treated to more than 125 films, relentlessly holding audiences’ emotions hostage and settling up well-deserved ransoms at the end of each screening with sensational works of art.

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Photo: Courtesy of Red Dress. Red Straps film

This years’ roster of indie shorts held their own and commanded as much attention as their full-length narrative features and documentary counterparts. The films that merit mention: Red Dress, Red Straps, Keylight, and Coffee and a Donut – brief in presentation, robust with long-lasting, heart-felt and controversial themes that permeated well after their screenings. Red Dress. Red Straps by director Maryam Mohajer follows the story of a young girl in her grandparents’ home in the midst of Iran-Iraq war in 1985. She’s enamored by a pretty pop star’s red dress she sees on television all the while listening to her grandfather’s favorite radio program spouting “Death to America” chants. The child is nonetheless consumed with how the dress her grandmother is making for her will turn out during this upheaval in her life. The whimsical animation touching upon war, coupled with a child’s perception of the world she lives in is bittersweet and enchanting. Red Dress. No Straps was produced in the U.K. and won the Best Animation award from the 11th annual NYC Independent Film Festival. To learn more about Red Dress. Red Straps, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Keylight film

Keylight by director Simon Kay begins with former child star Sarah, (Samantha Strelitz) about to audition when she’s suddenly confronted with what seems like stage fright but turns out to be thoughts of a traumatic incident in her past she’s incapable of letting go. Sarah finds a way to channel this experience to bring forth her best stage performance – but via dark introspective means. Winning the Festival of Cinema NYC’s Best Cinematography Award, Keylight offers a fresh perspective on how people can address past trauma to release cathartic enlightening and rise above it. To learn more about Keylight, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Coffee and a Donut film

Finally, the last narrative short that resonated with me was Coffee and a Donut by director Cary Patrick Martin. The story is about a young Spanish-speaking immigrant (Memo), whom after hearing a patron request a coffee and a donut at a local diner, perpetually asks for the same order because it’s the only English phrase he’s learned. He suffers in silence as he watches others order mouth-watering pancakes and the like – until he meets a fellow Spanish-speaking customer (Rocio Mendez) that helps him learn English, but not without some hiccups. This short film has resonated with audiences as it explores the universal immigrant experience of adapting to a new country they now call home; it’s sweet, funny and empathetic; a film so vital in today’s current political climate, particularly with the current administration’s animosity towards immigrants. Actress Rocio Mendez received this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC Best Supporting Actress Award. To learn more about Coffee and a Donut, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Over 18: A Documentary About Porn film

Documentaries must be given their spotlight too. After all they focus on topics that are rarely covered in mainstream films. This year’s standouts: Over 18: A Documentary About Porn and The Queens. Over 18 by directors Jared Brock and Michelle Brock chronicle the life of Joseph, a 13 year-old boy recovering from a porn addiction since age 9. Shocking? Absolutely. As the film progresses and shares eye-opening data, the more disturbing it becomes. The filmmakers examine the correlation between the Internet and the easy accessibility children have to porn sites with inadequate, limited restrictions; the male porn stars and companies who’ve profited and continue to make money from pornography, the female stars exploited and left to pick up the pieces – post porn work, and most importantly, the devastating effects and consequences porn addiction can have on children and adults. The directors did a fantastic job of interviewing subjects to discuss their roles in porn culture – specifically content, distribution and consumption; and what ultimately needs to change to safeguard children’s accessibility. To learn more about Over 18: A Documentary About Porn, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of The Queens film

The Queens documentary introduces audiences to a whirlwind of female impersonators and female illusionists around the country vying for the coveted title of Miss Continental. The national pageant, founded by Jim Flint in 1980, is held annually in Chicago and has preliminary qualifying Miss Continental contests around the country and the world. Forget everything you’ve heard or know about traditional pageants. The true super stars are the contestants in this documentary. Filmmaker Mark Saxenmeyer follows contestants that have invested tens of thousands in becoming Miss Continental; the dance routines they create and practice; the lavish costumes and makeup they spend money on; the perseverance they posses is immeasurable. Saxenmeyer delves into the culture of female impersonators and what’s at stake for them to follow their dreams with grace and integrity. To learn more about The Queens, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Quest: The Truth Always Rises film. L to R, Dash Mihok as Tim and Greg Kasyan as Mills.

In a film festival, more often than not, there’s a film that makes you stop, reflect and ponder for a while what you just saw. For me, this film was: Quest: The Truth Always Rises. Quest, written and directed by Santiago Rizzo, is autobiographical. Rizzo’s character Mills is played by Greg Kasyan. Kasyan (Netflix’s “Daybreak”) portrays a troubled teen in Los Angeles from an abusive home that seems destined for doom with tremendous grit and vulnerability. The teen is a graffiti artist and is talented in his tagging pursuits and expresses interest in school, but lashes out, as he internalizes the consistent physical and verbal abuse his stepfather (Lou Diamond Phillips) bestows on him. There’s a teacher and football coach that takes notice of his behavior and attempts to befriend the youth, albeit with resistance, but ultimately changes his life. The educator played by Dash Mihok (Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”) shows a display of compassion and lack of judgment so admirable and mirrors Rizzo’s true-life mentor, Tim Moellering. Mihok interprets the character with great stoicism and sincerity and the audience can’t help but root for both student and teacher. Receiving Best Feature Narrative at this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC, I can’t recommend this film enough. We need more stories like these to be told and raise awareness of troubled youth, the good these films can do to improve their lives and impact change. I impart Santiago Rizzo’s words from his emotional post-film Q&A: “Trust Your Struggle.” To learn more about Quest: The Truth Always Rises, click here.

Festival of Cinema NYC’s name was recently changed from Kew Gardens Film Festival to promote film submissions globally. The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently acknowledged the tremendous strides the festival is making to promote filmmakers and their work, and the free programming film panels and workshops events they sponsored in New York City. To learn more about Festival of Cinema NYC, click here.

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Teen Titan Kylie Jenner’s New York Pop-up is Cosmetics Gold: Beauty Brands Take Note

fullsizerenderIt’s the fifth day of Kylie Jenner’s New York’s pop-up store being open and there are no signs of her customer/fan base waning down- to get their hands on the coveted beauty products. I was there to check out the scene at the pop-up’s Soho location on Mercer Street. I arrived around 11am to find a line-up of about 80 enthusiastic customers braving the cold temperatures, patiently waiting, while barricaded along the street until they were let inside.

While on line, I decided to get into the minds of these beauty die-hards and ask them a series of questions: Do you love Kylie Jenner and would buy anything she promoted? Or do you love the quality of her cosmetics? What brings you here, really? As I surveyed the crowd to look for my participants, I had a preconceived notion that I would encounter pre-pubescent and teenaged girls. Boy, was I was wrong! There were fans ready to plunk down their cash – in their teens, early and late twenties, and early forties. I couldn’t believe Kylie Jenner’s demographic had such mass appeal and such a big age range. As I questioned more people, I found that they knew their beauty brands. Tarte, Anastasia, Too Faced are some of their favorites, but the majority of respondents said they preferred the quality of Kylie Jenner’s products. “I really like how long-lasting the lip kits are,” said one girl in her twenties. Others said they love the packaging and have been following Kylie on Instagram before her makeup line launched.

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After about an hour, I was let in. Yes! I was given a wristband and asked to enter my name and email by staffers for a quick checkout. Very efficient! I thought. Unlike New York City fashion sample sales I’ve attend in the past, this crew had it together, and want customers in and out.

Once inside, you realize the store isn’t very big. There was a “pseudo-recreation” of a bed by the back wall with a brown furry throw on it and large screens with seductive video images of Kylie staring at you. Fans of current and previous collections will be delighted to see most sold-out products available for purchase: The Birthday, Holiday and Valentine’s collections are hanging on different walls. Sprinkled throughout the store, you’ll find Arthur George socks with Kylie’s logo, phone cases, patches, hoodies and other clothing from the https://kyliejennershop.com.

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Jenner, who introduced her glosses in 2015, officially launched her global cosmetics line in 2016 and hasn’t stopped churning out, instant sell-out products – readily sought by fans – ever since. While Kylie Jenner has faced some obstacles along the way; comparisons of ColourPop Cosmetics’ significantly cheaper line; both makeup lines are produced by the Seed Beauty Factory; she’s determined to distinguish her line from others. Well-known bloggers/vloggers slammed Jenner on this detail, yet fans still show their unwavering support with their credit card purchases. The New York pop-up will be open until supplies run out.

In short, Kylie Jenner’s influence on the beauty industry has been solidified. Over 10 million in sales to date with her cosmetics line has the heavy-hitters in makeup paying attention and eager to mirror her success. Jenner’s success is a combination of cult followers and Jenner’s role as brand ambassador keeping her ahead of the beauty game.

 

The Uplifting Powers of Makeup

Being alone opens up the mind’s floodgates to thoughts; some good, some bad and usually persistent and recurring – depending on your current situation. Whenever I’m at a loss for motivation during my mornings as a freelancer or lack there of freelancing, I look through my heaps of makeup I’ve hoarded throughout the last 11 years working for magazines.

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Without a single method or inkling of how to apply anything, I reach for concealers, lipsticks, bronzers that may or may not be expired. Whatever! To your makeup no-nos! Elle, Allure and Harper’s Bazaar….I’m not throwing out anything! I’ve always taken pride in my hoarding techniques. I have so much conditioner for straight-haired blondes, I could really start a salon. Yup! I’ve been guilty of grabbing products completly useless to me when they were 25 cents or free – just because!

Whenever I’m in a sad state, which has been often, lately. I take to the bin filled with lip liners and glosses and lipsticks – pick a color of the day and this somehow makes me feel better. Eventhough I’m in my pajamas and plan to remain that way for the duration of the day, I’d like to know that at least my lips are dressed. They care! They want to make an impression.  As I’m writing this, I have a pimple the size of Nebraska, smack dab on the middle of my nose. It’s so precisely circumferenced that Nasa or Amazon’s drones can locate its exact coordinates. But, hey! I applied lipstick, regardless. This foreign body taking up residence on my human beak is not going to win. I recommend you heed my advice.

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Life’s obstacles got you down? Apply some makeup. It will instantly lift your spirits when everything and everyone seems to be projecting negativity. Next up: mastering old foundation that won’t give me a rash and, hopefully, evens out my complexion.

 

Yes…this happened.

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I don’t even wear enough make up to merit the $200 price tag the Kylie Jenner Birthday Bundle costs. Why entertain this? Because it’s exclusive and we’ve been conditioned to seek out and covet what’s unattainable. Or it could be that I’m a Leo and it’s special to those born on this Zodiac sign. I have no clue which one of these reasons is clouding my better judgment; what I do know is that I found myself gearing up for the KY-tastic sale last Wednesday at 6pm  EST. With three devices in hand, I was ready to spend my hard-earned freelance money on KYshadow, poppin’ gloss, the exclusive Leo lip kits and the Kylie makeup bag. Alas, I could not get my hands on these beauty products. I spent 27 minutes refreshing like nobody’s business with zero results. A half hour not well spent. I get it. I was under the Kardashian-Jenner juggernaut spell. It’s mindboggling to think that this teen – just alone with the birthday bundle @ $200 each – sold over 200K units in less than half an hour. Kudos to you, babe!

Refinery29 recently wrote an article – complete with Kylie Jenner illustrations – on her “Queen of Instagram” status. All of her Selfie poses are deliberate, the fashion/beauty pop-culture website claims. Not just some run-of-the-mill: “Hey, look at me. I’m snappin’ a pic of myself.” Ultimately it’s to sell a brand. And, love her or hate her, she does it well with a huge following!

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I had to experience this frenzy for myself, being a pop-culture junkie. What’s the tally now between the Kardashian-Jenners’ fortunes? One billion? For me, the thrill of the chase was reminiscent of my childhood – back in the 80s, before social media and massive swarms of people crashing sites. When I was 8 years old, my mom fought the good fight to get me the latest Cabbage Patch Kids. As a child I don’t recall people fighting, it was more like rude shoving, nobody was getting mauled or trampled in stores and malls, yet. My mother had created a distraction at the Toys-R-Us to get her hands on one of the last twin Cabbage Patch preemies for me. She had a water balloon in her purse – thanks to the kids she babysat. With one swift toss of the water balloon, she distracted parents to get the last set of twins.

Today, it’s a combination of star power with enough influence to sell products and the speed of your Internet service to get your “exclusive in-demand product” checked out!